Timeless Treasure: a Coveted Collectible from
a Devastating Disaster
The fascination with
the Titanic is not the romance of the survivors but, rather the tragedy of the
Not only was
it the greatest maritime disaster but, it continues to evoke
emotion and stir the collective soul of humanity to the present day. Her
story is still told in movies, books, documentaries, traveling exhibits and
1906-O Barber half-dollar belonged to Titanic victim John W. Gill. It was
recovered from the trouser pockets on his corpse. The provenance is beyond
question and the origin irrefutable. Even the Numismatic Guaranty
Corporation (NGC) which understandably takes an ultra-cautionary approach
before endorsing a pedigree and imprinting it on the “slab” concurs with the
origin. The Gill archive continues unchallenged as the best documented
artifacts recovered from the disaster. Any piece linked to Gill creates a stir,
as the authenticity is beyond reproach.
An Epic Love Story
Gill was a Second Class passenger on the RMS Titanic. The
24-year-old planned to sail to America to begin a new life with his wife and
father-in- law. At the last moment, his wife and her father decided to remain
in Eng-land to sell the father’s business.
John and his wife, Sarah, were married on Valentine’s Day,
1912--only two months before the tragedy. After she learned of his death, Sarah
fell into a state of shock and was unable to speak for more than twenty years.
She resumed talking only after falling down a flight of stairs. The pain evoked
by viewing her late-husband’s belongings caused her to sequester them in a
drawer. Sarah never remarried.
Nova Scotia to Now
Mr. Gill's possessions were carefully inventoried by a
provincial secretary in Nova Scotia. The items were placed inside a canvas bag
stamped 155, corresponding to the order in which his body was recovered. The
bag now serves as the centerpiece of the exhibit at the Titanic Museum.
Among the items were his pocket watch; the hands of which froze
three minutes after the Titanic fell beneath the ocean surface. In addition to
this half dollar, a folding comb, and a ring was returned to Sarah.
Everything remained inside the bag until 2002, when auctioned by
Henry Aldridge of England; the holdings brought a staggering amount. So much
so, that the assemblage was later broken into individual lots so that more
collectors could afford the items. The Barber half was featured on the cover of
That this coin survived the disaster on April 15, 1912, while
Gill himself didn't, offers a poignant reminder of the frailty of human life.
This silver disk endured the frigid saltwater of the north Atlantic, which was
inhospitable to human life, even for a brief period.
Not merely a numismatic link to the greatest maritime disaster
in history, but a tangible relic of a young couple’s promising future, which
crashed to the ocean floor along with the vessel, touted as being “unsinkable.”
The central piece in this museum-worthy assemblage remains the
unparalleled 1906-O Barber half dollar certified by NGC as originating from the
corpse of John W. Gill. However, this archive contains a treasure trove of
information: an original auction catalog, copies of correspondence be-tween
Sarah Gill, the newlywed widow, and the White Star Line which disavowed any
liability, additional letters from the Provincial Secretary in Nova Scotia,
etc. The next curator is annexing far more than a coin, that person is
receiving an irreplaceable link to a history-defining moment.
At a certain point, success is no longer measured in dollars,
but rather by the prestige and privilege to acquire trophies beyond the
imagination of most collectors; a rare collision of fantasy and reality. An
opportunity to reward oneself for a lifetime of hard work.
Gill's pocket watch originally realized $28k; this coin "fell through the cracks" at an autograph auction for merely $20k. The watch later resold publicly for more than $150,000. The half dollar has yet to cross the auction block once again.
Despite the coin’s million-dollar history it is
AS SEEN ON THE HISTORY CHANNEL’S
Offered exclusively by:
Frederick J. Bart
For additional information, please contact
Frederick Bart at 586.979.3400